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The quest for parity

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Not enough is being done to ensure gender equality in the workplace, but new legislation may go some way towards improving the situation for women

Despite the progress that has been made in recent years towards achieving greater gender diversity at work, latest research from McKinsey Global Institute shows that only 7% of European companies ranked diversity among their top three strategic priorities in 2016. Sadly, this is also reflected in the views of employees - more than 88% do not believe their company is doing what it takes to improve the situation.

And now for the really bad news: the UK is still one of the worst countries in Europe for workplace gender equality, according to a study conducted by Glassdoor Economic Research. It ranks 11th out of 18 countries, behind the likes of France, Spain and the Scandinavian countries. The study looked at factors such as the gap between female and male employment rates, female representation on corporate boards and the pay gap for working mothers.

The overall gender pay gap is one of the biggest issues. Despite the government’s pledge to end it  “within a generation”, research by accountancy firm Deloitte estimates that, unless employers take urgent action, pay parity in the UK will not be achieved until 2069.

New legislation may help employers take action, at least to a certain degree. On 6 April 2017, the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 for private and voluntary sector employers will come into force. This means that, by 4 April 2018, private and voluntary sector employers with 250 or more employees will be required to publish on their websites (and report to the government) information about their gender pay gap results. Similar requirements are also expected to apply to public sector organisations.

The government has also made available a new online tool designed to enable individuals to check the gender pay gap for their sector. Currently, this shows that the finance sector has the second biggest gender pay gap in the country. Only the construction and building sector fares worse in this respect.

Aside from this, the government encourages employers to sign up to their ‘Think, Act, Report’ campaign to help them work towards achieving gender equality in their workforces, particularly in relation to recruitment, retention, promotion and pay. Among the companies that have already signed up are all of the major UK banks and the Big Four professional services firms.

It is no coincidence that these employers have also been voted among the Top 50 Employers for Women 2016 in the annual survey by The Times. They are driving change through comprehensive change programs, policies, and processes that ingrain gender diversity in all aspects of their business. They tackle pay discrimination and job segregation, they offer quality part time and flexible job opportunities, and they make it easier for women to return to work after maternity and career breaks.

Hopefully smaller employers will soon start following suit, especially since gender equality makes perfect business sense. It is widely acknowledged that organisations with a gender diverse workforce produce better business results, they also have better public image and their employees report greater job satisfaction.

Gender equality is also important to future economic growth in the UK.

McKinsey estimates that bridging the workplace gender gap could add £150 billion to GDP in 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees.

Wade Macdonald’s Accountancy and Finance Insights series aims to explore some of the real challenges and opportunities professionals are facing in this space. Stay tuned for further insight!


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